Orion plans power cable through Lyttelton Tunnel to shore up electricity supply

"Power was restored to the majority of the city quickly after the February 2011 quake because of decades of planning, ...
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"Power was restored to the majority of the city quickly after the February 2011 quake because of decades of planning, investment and timely maintenance."

OPINION: The recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake and aftershocks that so drastically affected communities of North Canterbury serve as a harsh reminder of the benefits of foresight when it comes to investing in infrastructure.

After six years of earthquake recovery and rebuild, the city is in good shape to withstand earthquakes. We live in a seismic environment. We must continue to invest in resilient infrastructure that allows us to get on with our lives, and growing a thriving and vibrant economy.

Our electricity network is critical. It is also a great example of where foresight prepared the city well for some of its darkest days. Power was restored to the majority of the city quickly after the February 2011 quake because of decades of planning, investment and timely maintenance.

There are still lessons to be learned. Orion's principle objective following the earthquakes has been to restore reliability of power supply to our wider Christchurch community by 2019. That involves several projects – the 66,000 volt northern loop cable project, as well as improvements to the supply to Lyttelton and surrounding bays.

Orion has approached the rebuild of the city in a disciplined and collaborative way. It is working with business, industry and community groups to ensure the network is resilient and flexible. The ability to reroute electricity flow away from damaged circuits to other parts of the network is critical.

The recently completed northern loop project was five years in the delivery and is one of Orion's largest ever projects. It is effectively a super highway solely dedicated to the distribution of power across the city. This will protect our communities and businesses. It will also provide a strong foundation to support new technologies such as solar, battery storage and electric vehicles.

Recently there has been concern about interruptions to the electricity supply to the Lyttelton area. Lyttelton and surrounding areas are vital parts of our community and the port is critical to our local economy. Improving the surety of power supply to the Lyttelton area is a priority. But it's not a quick fix and the investment required is significant.

The power supply to this area comes from the Heathcote Valley substation via two overhead lines that that share a common set of poles. This is tough terrain and a harsh climatic environment so there will be risk of power outages from time to time.

The most cost-effective way to improve the reliability of power supply to Lyttelton is to run a separate cable through the Lyttelton tunnel, which would then provide an additional source of power. But this requires NZTA approval because it owns the tunnel.

I understand Orion has been in conversation with NZTA for some time now and an agreement is not too far away. In the meantime, Orion has invested more than $1.5 million as a first step. This includes significant work on substation relocation and renewal.

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Preparatory work has set the Lyttelton network up to receive the planned cable through the tunnel. Once an access agreement is finalised, the cable will be installed through the tunnel within 24 months.

Further work is underway and more is scheduled on the two existing overhead lines into Lyttelton to improve the reliability of power supply in the interim.

Orion performed well in a post-earthquake environment and we can expect it to continue to improve its operations through investment and innovation.

Peter Townsend is the chief executive of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce.

 - Stuff

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